Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Racist Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

(Published in the Philadelphia Inquirer  Op-Ed section on June 13, 2016)

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Movie is just another example of racist propoganda.
Yes, I'm saying it! The movie  featuring those green sewer-dwelling amphibians that everyone loves is racist. Subliminally racist. Insidiously racist.

I know . . . people are tired of folks accusing movies or television series of having racist content or undertones. Because, come on, if you look hard enough you can convince yourself that anything can be racist. Right?

But let's examine some cold hard facts here, okay?

Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo -- members of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles = The good guys.

Be-Bop, Rock-steady, and Shredder -- members of the Foot Clan = The bad guys.

Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo are named after great artists of the European Renaissance era. Leonardo, then one might easily surmise, is meant to represent Leonardo da Vinci -- the great artist, inventor, mathematician and writer whose genius epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal.  

They are, of course figures to be admired, even worshiped as role models for our children. Figures with whom we would all want to identify, and whose success we hope they would aspire to emulate. 

But now let's look at the bad guys, shall we?

Bebop is a form of music developed in the 1940s -- some say invented by jazz icons Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Coleman Hawkins -- but identified with all the African-American jazz musicians of that era. 

Rocksteady is a musical form that came out of the Caribbean, mainly Jamaica, in the mid 1960s. Made famous by Alton Ellis who was called the "Godfather of Rocksteady," It even spawned a dance craze that reached the United States in the 1970s with the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklins' hit Rock Steady.  Johnny Nash hit number one on the Billboard Chart here in the States with his Rocksteady song, I Can See Clearly Now.

Shred guitar or shredding is defined as a virtuoso leading guitar solo playing style for the electric guitar, based on various fast playing techniques. A friend of my father's always talked about musicians and their titles. Frank Sinatra was "The Chairman of the Board." Ray Charles was "The Genius.” And Jimi Hendrix -- who died in 1970 after only a four-year career in music --  was "The Shredder."  Search the web and you'll find numerous mentions of his magnificent shredding at the Woodstock Music Festival, and his stirring rendition of The Star Spangled Banner is still considered a shredding classic. Though greatly identified with heavy metal rock, Prince was also considered one of the great shredders, and he cited his shredding influences as both Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana. 

Now, see, I don't think it's overly sensitive to look at a cartoon that names all the smart good guys after European culture and all the stupid bad guys after Black culture. Do you?

What bothers me the most is that it's subliminal, and therefore insidious!  

Subliminal, because most of the children watching wouldn't yet know about the European Renaissance, or yet be familiar with names of music genres like Rocksteady and Bebop, they're just watching a funny action-packed cartoon. Thus the idea is insidiously planted in their brain -- European culture good -- Black culture bad.

Cowabunga my ass. 


David E Kittrell said...

Over sensitive? Not at all Sister and you're right you can find anything in these media images if you look hard enough but you really don't have to look hard to see it. It's there sometime subtle sometimes it's just out right smacks you in the face but it's there none the less. Images that try to reinforce Racist stereotypes in attempts to assert white superiority and or foster suggestions of Black inferiority. See the key phrase here is subliminal. Subtle images that your mind's eye will recognize and internalize in spite of what your eyes don't see.So stay sensitive Sister because it is really only being conscience

Michael Swanwick said...

The creators probably weren't even aware of what they were doing because they were basing their villains on earlier villains in pop culture that were based on yet earlier villains, going all the way back to the bad old days when anthropology was a pseudo-science meant to sort people according to how far or close they were to (at the peak) Anglo-Saxons. When I was a kid, I wondered why all the bad guys in the Hardy Boys books were described as being "swarthy."

But in art, as in the law, ignorance is no excuse. Which is why it’s important to call such things out.

Michael Miller Jr said...

I agree with you, I don’t think it’s political correct nor being too sensitive to question things or our actions. Mainly because look how systemic the whole slavery/racism construct was to denigrate minorities especially Africans.

They were forbidden to marry, to go to school, to learn to read. And that was set up legally, and in places where it wasn’t, there was de facto slavery/segregation.

Then when slavery was finally abolished, it was a struggle for former slaves, and even “free” African Americans to secure their civil liberties and freedom. Look at Octavius V. Cato here in Philly.

We reneged on 40 acres and a mule, had to pass Amendments (13, 14, & 15th) to the Constitution to insure fairness to the systemic hatred that was in place and we’re still having serious racist issues today!

Instead of lynchings, now we have legal violence against unarmed black men because they are perceived as dangerous or threatening! Really? An unarmed person being a threat to an armed police officer who’s trained to deal with a situation like that. What ever happened to not using deadly force? To trying to deescalate the situation? Firing a warning shot, if necessary first? Waiting for backup?

And it’s still covert, insidious, and subliminal. Well until recently with demagogue Donald Trump and racist Ted Cruz, et al running in the GOP presidential primaries!

So, thank you so much for writing that article.

Are you familiar with the PBS series about race? I think we should start spreading the word that dividing us into “races” is false, a myth. (Go to www.pbs.org/race).

We have to start eliminating this myth instead of letting it continue.

Race has no genetic basis. So we should substitute “ethnic group” or "ethnicity” instead of using the word race.

Race is a construct invented by slave owners and racists who wanted to justify, not only slavery but white supremacy, the extermination of Indians, the taking of Mexican lands, and the exclusion of other groups; Jews, Asians, etc. We are all part of the HUMAN race! There are different ethnic divisions, but no human subspecies.

So, please contact the influential people you know and let’s get this myth deconstructed and ended!

Please click on that link and let me know what you think Karen.

YE isHere said...

SiStar Queen your assessment is astute and accurate! Thank you for sharing your Melanic Vibrational Insight.

Anonymous said...

I always think the Ninja Turtles are black.
They act like black, sounded like black, looks like black.